A Mecca for Estonians Abroad
Tony Loorpärg, born in Estonian but moved to New Zealand at a young age, is making his first visit to the festival and said it can be compared to Mecca, with those with Estonian roots obliged to take part at least once.
“It provides a vital statement to the world that Estonian culture remains alive and thriving,” he said.
For others, such as Kristyn Simmons, who has Estonian roots through her mother, said it provides extra incentive to travel to Estonia, and it makes her feel more connected to the heritage, instead of just taking a touristy trip.
Talvi Parming, who like Simmons, grew up in Canada, said the festival's meaning differs according to the age of the participant. For those younger than 30, she said its is as much about contact with the parents and grandparents nation as anything else.
“Singing under the arch with 25,000 singers is a powerful experience which remains forever. Older people remember their childhoods and how important Song and Dance Festivals were to keeping Estonia traditions alive and to fight for freedom,” she said.
Parming, a veteran of two festivals, has been practicing songs with her Toronto choir for 18 months each week. She will also dance at the festival. Simmons is also part of a choir from Toronto, saying a intense practice week was held there, where all the Estonian choirs from that area participated.
This year's festival is the second for Simmons, and she says her Estonian has improved since 2009, making it easier to learn the songs.
Loorpärg said looking at Estonia from one of the longest distances possible, the nation seems to be going in the right direction. Democracy, EU and NATO membership and a high ICT reputation in the world all point in the right direction.
He points out that Estonia is a multicultural society and Estonians need to come to terms better with the Russian speaking population. Loorpärg said Estonia could lead an example by better integrating Russian Estonians.
Speaking about the New Zealand Estonian community, Loorpärg said there is a generation shift, with many of those arriving in the country in the 1940s passing away. But recent arrivals from Estonia have helped second and third generation Estonians keep up their traditions.
Parming also said numbers have declined, but writing in perfect Estonian, she added that the Estonian school in Toronto has seen new faces moving from Estonia and the language is still surviving.